by Marla Gilsig
The practice of law has its challenges. For me, those challenges have been enormous because I am a female lawyer with a severe hearing disability and no sign language skills. My quest for lawyers who are hard of hearing to have auditory access to our profession has made me a pioneer in the field. Real-time reporting is an easy way to access oral communication but it is expensive. Consequently, I provide my own accommodation, an FM system, which enables me to hear spoken words at meetings and court proceedings. My FM system consists of two hearing aids, a remote and an FM receiver microphone. I place my FM receiver microphone near the person talking and it transmits his or her voice wirelessly to the FM receiver in my hearing aids. This blocks out all background sounds and reduces the distance that sounds must travel to my ear, which provides me with much better speech understandability. Manufactured by Phonak of Switzerland, it costs $8,000 and lasts about five years.
About three times per year I attend CBABC’s Provincial Council meetings in my capacity as Chair of the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Section for the Lower Mainland. About 150 lawyers attend these meetings, which take place in a conference room in the Delta Hotel in Richmond. Before the meeting begins, I place my FM receiver microphone on the podium next to the room’s microphone. This allows me to hear the lawyers who speak into the podium microphone but not the lawyers who speak into the other four microphones located throughout the room. Recently, CBABC’s sound technician advised me that for optimum hearing I should connect my FM receiver microphone to the room’s audio amplification equipment.
Fortuitously, a week later, the Western Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (“WIDHH”) notified me of my acceptance into the B.C. Government’s Equipment and Assistive Devices – Give Away Program (“EAD-GAP”). WIDHH’s Henry Lam, Registered Audiologist, used my one-time grant to purchase a new FM receiver microphone for me. Then, Mr. Lam coached me on how to connect my FM receiver microphone to the room’s audio amplification equipment. The research shows that there is limited use of FM systems in the adult population because of the considerable coaching required to use such apparatus.
At CBABC’s Provincial Council meeting on March 7, 2009, the sound technician connected my FM receiver microphone to the meeting’s audio amplification equipment. Using my FM system in this manner greatly increased the speech intelligibility of all the voices for me. I could hear the words spoken whether the individual used the podium microphone or one of the other four microphones. The experience was even more memorable because one of the speakers was the late Honourable Judge Stansfield, then Chief Judge of the Provincial Court of B.C.
On May 5, 2009, I appeared in the Provincial Court of B.C. in North Vancouver and arranged to have the court clerk connect my FM receiver microphone to the courtroom’s audio amplification system. I could hear the judge and the participants much better provided they spoke directly into the microphone.
I am grateful to CBABC, WIDHH, the B.C. Government and the Provincial Court for working with me to achieve this milestone. We have improved access to the legal profession and added value to my CBA membership.
Marla Gilsig, Barrister and Solicitor
This article was published in the June 2009 issue of BarTalk. © 2009 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.